The University of Illinois appears poised to add men’s hockey as a varsity sport, but it’s not a done deal just yet.
According to USCHO.com, the Illini were the first athletic department to take advantage of a program sponsored by College Hockey Inc., the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association that funds feasibility studies for schools considering adding the sport. The process began nearly two years ago, and now it appears that the school is close to securing the financial commitments it needs to help get the program off the ground.
Warren Hood, Illinois’ deputy athletic director, told USCHO that the final decision on launching the hockey program could come in the next few months. “We have been working with a number of stakeholders the last nine months and we have made great progress,” Hood said. “February is going to be a big month for us. We have a lot of final meetings with some partners and depending on how those go, we are hoping we can make a decision in April or May.”
Illinois has plans for a new, 5,000-seat arena that would service the hockey program, as well as volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics. Two auxiliary ice sheets would be added as a community asset. Illinois’ existing ice arena currently hosts the club hockey team, but is reportedly not an option for a Division I program.
The cost of the project is estimated at $100 million, and the school hopes to raise about $50 million in donations to support it.
If the plan moves forward, Illinois would become the 8th member of the Big Ten hockey conference. Launching the hockey program would mean the school would either add a women’s sport — likely hockey, field hockey or lacrosse — or eliminate a men’s sport in order to satisfy Title IX requirements.
According to USCHO, despite not having a Division I program in the state, Illinois produces the fourth most Division I caliber men’s hockey players trailing only Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan.